Visual designer & researcher in visual communication

Institute for the Future

A social engine game for future thinking.

Visual Design         Designer  /  UX & UI

The original concept for the Institute for the future came from a professor named Jerome Glen who developed the Futures Wheel in the 1970’s. A future wheel is a visualization and organization tool that helps organize thoughts about a future development or trend. This concept was adapted into a game and expanded upon by Jane McDonnell as a series of TED Talks. What was developed is an online game, where an institute who is researching almost anything, can propose to create a space to play. The players have unlimited cards they can play and gain points from interaction. They can either play a new thought card or play a shadow or positive imagination card on to another player’s card. There are bonus awarded to players and cards for how much interaction they inspire. The goal of the game is to encourage interaction and push ideas multiple steps beyond their original state. After a game is completed the institution will compile thoughts created in the game to propose future initiatives.  

Institute for the Future needed to create a more intuitive experience for their online game board with a more appealing interface design. A typical game would last between 12-24 hours and the user would likely be a first time user who would never return after the game was finished. The key goal for this project was to streamline the onboarding process and encourage interaction. Users have a wide range of age, location, income, and exposure to technology. The existing digital version of the game was confusing to new users and lacked encouragement for engagement. The design reflected the modular growth of the product where as each piece was mismatched and lacked consistency. The growth of the game board was obfuscated by a lack of clear structure within each page and a maze of hidden subpages. This was even more apparent when viewing on a small screen, which was a substantial portion of the users. We needed to isolate the pain-points, clarify the goals and instructions, and expose the social engagement that happens when creating a Futures Wheel. We also needed to combine the mismatched elements and uncover hidden sections into a cohesive design.   

The very first thing we I did was isolate the primary user path. Most players were first time users who needed to quickly run through the sign up process, understand the purpose, and begin playing. I hosted a whiteboarding session with the clients and developers where we plotted out a funnel for the primary use case. We were able to quickly work out our concerns, areas of focus, and get a feel for a new approach for interacting with the game. When I moved to the other use cases and began wireframing I was able to tie in all the extraneous functionality. With a primary focus already plotted out I was able to refine 
the user experience and pull in other key upgrades like visualizing the game’s growth.   

After I had completed the wire frames we moved to the design discovery stage. Institute for the Future hosts their games for a wide range of other institutions. This range spans from small groups of developers in Silicon Valley to educational institutions with students and faculty across the United States. Each hosting party will populate the game with their own content. The design needed to be distinct, but also neutral. The mood board reflects a contemporary approach to technology while also not overstating any visual element. The color choices could emotional distinction between the positive and negative imagination while avoiding competing with any applied branding. 

The largest challenge for this project was figuring out a consistent experience for a responsive game board. The interface was loaded with features, buttons, and information. I had to bridge the gap between the creative concepts developed and approved by the clients and the technical limitations proposed from the developers. It took a lot of evaluation and refining to come to the final version of the placement of the controls 
and visual dominance they have. Everything needed to be in a logical location with as minimal visual clarity as possible. The structure of the game was created into a clickable prototype that was used to test the look, feel, and flow of the game. 

The Institute for the Future now promotes a fully functional game to anyone interested in brainstorming ideas about the future. The first time users is quickly directed through sign-up and inducted into the game by playing their first card from a desktop computer or a mobile device. The institutions are able to easily apply their content to create a game with less technical involvement. We were able to expand the rules and features within the game to encourage ideation of ideas.  If a player’s card was built upon they could receive an award or extra points which encourage more involvement. The focus, process, and ideation of a game based on the Futures Wheel is much closer now than before.  



Institute for the Future  /  Jane McGonigal

Visual Designer                      
Ted Folstad

Mapping & Wireframe        
Ted Folstad